Out Of The Dark – Snippet 19
But who had done it? And how? There was no way it had been the Iranians,
no matter what the rumor mill had said! So who –?
The door to what had been the Direct Air pi lots’ lounge flew open. The racket as it slammed abruptly into the doorstop brought Torino’s head up, and he frowned as he recognized the man standing in the open doorway. He couldn’t remember the fellow’s name, but he was the senior man from the local Homeland Security office located here at the airport.
“Major Torino!” the newcomer half shouted.
“Here!” The man was holding out a cell phone. “He needs to talk to you!”
Torino accepted the phone and raised it to his ear.
“Who is this?” he asked suspiciously.
“Torino? Major Torino, U.S. Air Force?” a hoarse voice replied.
“Yes. Who the hell are you?”
“Thank God.” The voice paused for a moment, as if its owner were drawing a deep breath, then resumed. “This is Rear Admiral James Robinson, Naval Network and Space Operations Command. I’ve been hunting for someone — anyone — who’s still got some air defense capability for the last three hours, and so far you’re all I’ve been able to find.”
Torino’s eyes narrowed. These days, NAVSPACECOM was primarily a centralized data processing node for USSTRATCOM’s Joint Functional Command Component for Space, which had been stood up in 2006 to bring all United States space surveillance systems together under one roof. But JFCC SPACE was — or had been, at least — headquartered at Vandenberg. He knew that was gone, but until 2004, NAVSPACECOM had been the primary headquarters for what had originally been the Navy’s Naval Space Command Surveillance, and it continued to function as the backup Space Command Center. If he remembered correctly, it was located at Dahlgren, Virginia, a hundred miles north of Norfolk, and he supposed that whoever had smashed the American military might have overlooked it. There wasn’t much to attract the eye, aside from the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s airstrip.
“I don’t suppose there’s any point trying to authenticate to each other, is there, Sir?” Torino’s biting irony could have evaporated Lake Champlain, and the man at the other end of the cell phone gave a harsh, ugly bark of laughter.
“No, there isn’t. We’ve still got some comms, but the entire system’s been shot full of holes. I don’t know why we didn’t get hit — everybody else in our line of business sure as hell did! But I’ve been going down the list, trying to find somebody with shooters who’s still online. As far as I can tell, you’re it for CONUS air defense, although there’s supposed to be a couple of other detachments scattered around bases in the Carolinas. I’m trying to get hold of them, too, but as bad as communications are, I don’t think I’m going to reach anyone else in time to do any good.”
“Forgive me, Admiral, but just how is talking to me supposed to do any good?” Torino demanded bitterly. “We’re fucked, Sir. That’s the short and ugly truth.”
“Yes, we are, Major,” Robinson said. “But National Command Authority hasn’t told us to stand down yet.”
“No,” Torino admitted. “On the other hand, what the hell can we do?”
“Listen to me, Major. Whoever did this didn’t — I repeat, did not — use nukes. These were kinetic strikes, delivered from space. In fact, they were delivered from a point approximately thirty thousand miles out. Are you following me? This was not an attack by any other nation. It was an attack from someone else — someone from completely outside our solar system!”
“Aliens?” Torino heard the incredulity in his own voice. “You’re telling me aliens did this? Like some bad outtake from Independence Day?”
“I know it sounds crazy, but the tracking data’s solid. They were launched in sequenced waves, Major, emanating from seven distinct point sources. They started moving east across North America while simultaneously laying another pattern across the Med, headed west. They took out all of our major bases, and as nearly as I can tell, they’ve killed every surface unit the Navy had. I imagine they hit our bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well, though I don’t have any way to confirm that yet — I’m still looking for a comm link to anybody over there. But think about it. It makes sense out of that cyber attack, doesn’t it? They were pulling out information for targeting purposes.”
Torino wanted to throw the phone away, sit down, and bury his face in his hands. It was ridiculous. Preposterous. Yet if Robinson was who he said he was — and Torino had no reason to doubt him — he was in a better position than almost anyone else on the entire planet to know if aliens were dropping rocks on them.
“Say you’re right, Sir,” he said after a moment. “Why tell me? Not even a Raptor can intercept meteorites!”
“No, you can’t,” Robinson agreed grimly. “But I’ve still got optical tracking and detection available, and the bastards who did this are sending in what look like shuttles.”
“Shuttles?” Torino said sharply, gray- green eyes suddenly narrow.
“That’s what it looks like. You may not realize the optical resolution we can get, but we’re getting good detail, and I’m having it set up to dump to the Internet as it comes in. Hopefully enough of the Net’s still up for people to see it and realize what we’re up against, but what matters right now is that these things have to be way too small to be any kind of interstellar craft. Our people make them to be maybe three times the size of a C-5, and they’ve got an air breathing planeform. They’ve got to be landing vehicles of some sort, and it looks like we’ve got at least two or three dozen of them heading for someplace in western Pennsylvania or central Virginia.”
Don Torino’s Raptor bored through the thin, frigid air fifty thousand feet above the state of Pennsylvania at just over twelve hundred miles per hour. He tried not to think about the roaring infernos sweeping out from the impact sites he and his detachment had overflown to get here. He tried not to think about the fact that, one way or the other, this was going to be his final combat sortie. And he especially tried not to think about the fact that with the United States of America facing its first foreign invasion in three centuries, all she had to defend herself were four lonely fighter planes.
I wonder how outclassed we’re really going to be? He wondered. As a sixteen-year-old, he’d loved the movie Independence Day, although he’d realized even then that he was watching the most gloriously overdone, clichÃ©-ridden Grade-B movie in history. As an older and (arguably) more mature fighter pilot and commissioned officer of the United States Air Force, rewatching the movie with his kids on video had caused him a certain degree of physical pain, not to mention leaving him to explain to his offspring where the Air Force had been while the Marine Corps single-handedly defended the world. Still, he couldn’t forget the force field which had protected all of the alien vessels in that movie.
Look, stop sweating it, he told himself sternly. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen, and you sure as hell aren’t Will Smith. Hell, you’re not even Bruce Willis, and at least he’s the right color! Even if his hair is even worse than yours.
To his amazement, that actually startled a laugh out of him.